Friday, October 30, 2015

On Solomon Schechter and post-Pharaonic Egypt

REVIEW OF THE EGYPT: FAITH AFTER THE PHARAOHS EXHIBITION: Solomon Schechter and the lost years of Egypt (Jonathan Gornall, The National). A thoughtful and well-informed review that sets the exhibition in historical context from the Victorian era to the present. Excerpt:
Painstakingly, [Solomon] Schechter set about extracting and saving what he could [from the Cairo Geniza]. In the end, he shipped back to Britain 193,000 fragments of documents written in Hebrew, Judaeo-Arabic, Aramaic and Arabic. What became known as the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection found a home at Cambridge University Library where work began on it in earnest in the 1970s. The collection contains sacred scriptures and a vast array of personal letters, legal documents and other everyday material that sheds light on an underappreciated era of Egyptian and Islamic history.

A handful of these documents forms the grand finale of a new exhibition at the British Museum in London. Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs is the first major international show to tell the story of the 1,200 years of Egyptian history from the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in 30BC through the transition first to majority Christian and then to Muslim identity, culminating in the end of the Fatimid dynasty in 1171AD.

This period of the country’s history has been neglected, by academics and the public imagination alike, says exhibition curator Elisabeth O’Connell, assistant keeper in the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.

“Egypt’s pharaonic past has certainly captured the imagination, and rightly so, of generations of people,” she says. In short, what came next was overshadowed by the sheer physical presence left on the landscape by the pharaohs.

“The focus has very much been on that stone monumental building phase of Egypt’s history, and later subsequent mud brick remains and things that are not monumental are much more easily disregarded and, in fact, on the ground swept away.

“In the past few decades Egypt in particular has begun to prioritise Christian and Islamic material culture on the same level as pharaonic and that’s been a very welcome development.”
Background on the exhibition is here and links. And PaleoJudaica has a great many past posts on the Cairo Geniza. Start here and follow the links.